One year ago today, a 26-year-old Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire in the middle of the street outside of a Tunisian governor's office, igniting the Tunisian Revolution and the greater Arab Spring protests across the Middle East. For years the young fruit and vegetable salesman had been mistreated and abused by local police, and they were beginning to extort money from him and make his business impossible to run. After a local municipal official humiliated Bouazizi by publicly beating him and taking his electronic weighing scales away, he ran to the governor's office to complain and have his scales returned. When the governor refused to see him, Bouazizi bought a can of gasoline, stood outside of the governor's office, and lit himself ablaze with a match. His last words, shouted angrily at the symbol of the Tunisian government before him, were "How do you expect me to make a living?"
At the time, no one in these autocratic regimes nor in the West knew that one young man's self-immolation in a small town in Tunisia would so radically alter the geopolitics of our world and upend governments that had been in power for decades. After a few weeks in a coma in intensive care, Bouazizi died on New Years Eve. Two weeks after that, Tunisian President Ben Ali fled his country and ended his 23-year rule. Other dictators from Mubarak to Gaddafi would fall, and still others like Syria's Assad are fighting for their existence. The so-called Arab Spring is now a year old, and the fire is still raging and worthy of our intense attention. Fire, as we are learning, can be both a handy servant and a dangerous master. We must continue to hope that this Arab Spring improves the condition of man in the Middle East, but we must prepare for the alternative scenario that we are entering into a new, dangerous, and perplexing period of time in that ever-smoldering corner of the world.